Alan Jacobs speculates on what it means (or doesn’t, as the case may be) to be a conservative:
I am not and never have been a Republican. I feel roughly as alienated from that party as I do from the Democratic Party. I hold a number of political views that strong-minded Republicans typically find appalling: I think racism is one of the greatest problems in American society today; I am not convinced that austerity programs are helpful in addressing our economic condition; I am absolutely convinced that what many Republicans call free-market capitalism is in fact crony capitalism, calculated to favor the extremely wealthy and immensely powerful multinational corporations; I think that for all of the flaws of Obamacare, it was at least an attempt to solve a drastically unjust and often morally corrupt network of medical care in this country; I dislike military adventurism, and believe that our various attempts at nation-building over the past decade were miscalculated from the outset.
So is there any sense in which I might plausibly be called a conservative? I don’t really know; I’ll leave that to others to decide. It doesn’t really matter to me whether I fit into any pre-existing political or intellectual categories. I can only say this: that I do have three overarching political commitments (or beliefs, or convictions) that are more important to me than any others.
The first is that I strive to be a consistently pro-life Christian. I am aware that many people believe that the whole notion of a “consistent pro-life ethic” is a way for liberal Christians to minimize the evil of abortion by wrapping it in a whole series of other issues, and that may well be true for many, but I do believe that there is such a thing as a consistently pro-life position and that that position involves an absolute commitment to the unborn and also to the weak, the sick, the elderly, the mentally ill, and all the others who find themselves at the margins of our society, generally unloved and uncared for. My models in this quest are the Cappadocian fathers of the Church.
One might hope that in trying to describe what a conservative is that something like the pro-life movement, that signature set of social politics in the late 2oth century which acts as a hinge to distinguish conservatives from the rest of the world, would deserve the sort of healthy skepticism Jacobs affords hyper-capitalistic economics and expansive militarism.
Some are trying to connect the dots between Calvinism and the formation of our rights-heavy republic. The project seems shaky, given how Calvin himself wasn’t particularly wild about notions of civil rebellion and disobedience. But there might be something to be said for how Calvinism bears on what it means to be conservative when it comes to a movement that tends to exalt that highest good provisional life affords, life itself, and portrays the unborn as angelic cherubim. Calvinism says that human beings are conceived in sin and that we are born children of wrath (Heidelberg Catechism QA 7).
It could be that another test of conservatism is to take the same measure of exception to “an absolute commitment to the unborn” as to the sweeping allegiance to something like nation-building and fat-cat capitalism. It may be more reflective of a modern tendency to exalt youth over age to such an extent that that segment of the human population is said to be deserving (insert Calvinist squirm) of a zealous and absolutist protection that other segments of the human population simply aren’t. Conservative Calvinists know that death is a reality. Sometimes people die, and that as a result of disease, age, violence, and even public policy. This isn’t at all to undermine the virtues of pro-lifery, namely that the strong and powerful have a duty to look out for their weak and powerless neighbors, but it is to wonder why there isn’t more effort on the parts of those who conceive themselves as conservative to moderate at least the rhetoric or dial down absolutist claims about life. And if it’s the Bible we want to bring to bear on the public square and conversation then Jesus’ words in Luke 14 about the cost of discipleship might have just as much, if not more to say about life as Psalm 134:
Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.